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Distracted Driving

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I am often asked about the law in Ontario surrounding Distracted Driving.  I know most people are in search of answers about the law that took effect on October 26, 2009, but I like to give them a hard time about it.  (More about that later). For now let's look at the ‘new' law.

The distracted driving legislation made it illegal to use an electronic device that could lead to potential distractions.   Most commonly, we refer to the actions as talk, type, text & email.  The law also includes having a display screen, not related to the operation of a vehicle, visible to the driver and using an electronic entertainment device.

Here is all the legal stuff: Highway Traffic Act

Hand-held devices prohibited

Wireless communication devices

78.1  (1)  No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding or using a hand-held wireless communication device or other prescribed device that is capable of receiving or transmitting telephone communications, electronic data, mail or text messages. 2009, c. 4, s. 2.

Entertainment devices

(2)  No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway while holding or using a hand-held electronic entertainment device or other prescribed device the primary use of which is unrelated to the safe operation of the motor vehicle. 2009, c. 4, s. 2.

Hands-free mode allowed

(3)  Despite subsections (1) and (2), a person may drive a motor vehicle on a highway while using a device described in those subsections in hands-free mode. 2009, c. 4, s. 2.

Exceptions

(4)  Subsection (1) does not apply to,

(a) the driver of an ambulance, fire department vehicle or police department vehicle;

(b) any other prescribed person or class of persons;

(c) a person holding or using a device prescribed for the purpose of this subsection; or

(d) a person engaged in a prescribed activity or in prescribed conditions or circumstances. 2009, c. 4, s. 2.

Same

(5)  Subsection (1) does not apply in respect of the use of a device to contact ambulance, police or fire department emergency services. 2009, c. 4, s. 2.

Same

(6)  Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply if all of the following conditions are met:

1. The motor vehicle is off the roadway or is lawfully parked on the roadway.

2. The motor vehicle is not in motion.

3. The motor vehicle is not impeding traffic. 2009, c. 4, s. 2.

In English that means you can't use a phone unless it is capable of hands free operation. You can't hold an electronic device while driving. You can't watch a movie, computer screen or e-reader while driving. You can't cue up your favorite playlist or podcast while you are driving.

The key tag line for this law has been, "Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel."

As long as you are parked, off the travelled portion of the roadway and not impeding traffic you can do any of those things.

But, lets really look at this.  What makes changing a radio station any less dangerous than starting your play list?  Why is it considered safer to talk in hands free mode than holding the phone?  Why can you look at a billboard on the side of the highway, but not an add on your computer screen.  The answer to all of those is this...NOTHING!

I have been saying all along, it's not the device...it's the distraction.

Here is where I give people a hard time...what is a distraction?

A child in the rear seat can be a distraction. Spilling hot coffee in your lap will be a distraction.  Looking for an address is a distraction.  You have to manage the distractions you can't control, ie billboards, screaming babies, backseat drivers, while you eliminate those you can control...phones, food, reading, etc.

The task of driving is a very complex skill that requires your full attention.  A momentary distraction can cause you to miss vital information required to be a safe road user that may lead to a lifetime of misery and regret.

Imagine you are driving on a residential street.  The speed limit is forty kilometers per hour.  You understand safety in a community so you are travelling at 35 kilometers per hour ready for any child that may dart out in front of you.  That translates to a velocity of 9.72 meters per second or roughly 30 feet.

Now, you have your device on the seat beside you and it beeps letting you know that you are a very important person. You know that this message must be looked at right away, so you glance away from the road, grab the device, open the message and take a very quick glance.  Your eyes were off the road for less than a second.  In that say, half a second, you missed a ball fly across the road.  You now look again at your device and give a quick read of the subject line. One second gone, 30 feet later, you look up to see a child running after the ball.  You see the child, your brain says brakes, your foot comes off the gas pedal slams into the brake pedal and your car stops abruptly...5 feet past where the child ran out.  You have hit that child and the impact has slammed him/her to the ground.

One third of a second more warning and you would have stopped just before the child.  One third of a second and that child is only scared, not injured or worse.  One third of a second and life goes on as normal.

Let's be realistic...oh, sorry that was.  Let's put this into another perspective. 50 km/h you are moving at about 45 feet per second.  100 km/h is a little less than a football field every second.  Think you miss a lot of information in that one second.  You bet you do.

And remember as your speed increases your stopping distance increases exponentially relative to your speed.

When you are driving there is no room for distractions.  You need to concentrate on the task at hand.

Studies have shown that talking on a cell phone increases your chance of crashing by about four times that of not talking on a phone.  Texting? 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision.

I suggest that if you are so important that you have to talk while you are driving, or text, or read email...you are important enough that you should have a driver.

Finally, here are my tips.  I know they work because this is what I do.  I turn off the notifiers on my device when I get in the car to drive.  If I don't hear them, I'm not tempted to look. When I use a GPS, I program it before I move and have the volume turned up to prompt my moves, not the map.   When I call someone and I recognize that they are driving, I politely tell them that I will call them back, or they can call me at a better time.  I figure they could be driving where my loved ones are, so I don't want to be their distraction.  I never wear a headset that plays music in my ears.  That cuts off outside noise that I might need to hear such as a car honking, people yelling or tire/engine noise that could tell me something is wrong with my car.

So, do you have any tricks that help you? Do you sneak the odd call or text? Want any more clarification?  Let me know.  Email is:

timothy.burrows@torontopolice.on.ca